There is a deep connection between the struggle for a sustainable environment and the struggle against militarism. Militarism can be defined as a vigorous military establishment committed to using coercive force for promoting putative national interests. The United States, with the world's largest military budget (greater than the next six countries combined) and some 800 military bases in 70 foreign countries, is clearly a militarist society. Historical evidence indicates that militarism generates warfare, and wars are often catastrophic for both human beings and the environment. Wars have killed about 200 million human beings since 1900, the great majority of whom were civilians. And the pace of military slaughter is not slackening.
In his valuable book "The Green Zone: The Environmental Costs of Militarism" (2009), Barry Sanders writes that "the greatest single assault on the environment, on all of us around the globe, comes from one agency ... the Armed Forces of the United States." The Pentagon is the world's largest institutional consumer of fossil fuels as well as the world's largest institutional source of greenhouse gasses. The U.S. military uses (on average) 1 million or more barrels of oil per day and contributes about 5 percent of current global warming emissions. The Pentagon currently devours about one-quarter of the world's jet fuel. The world's combined militaries are responsible for fully two-thirds of the ozone-depleting greenhouse gases in our planet's atmosphere.
Even in the absence of warfare, military pollution is staggering. Almost 900 of the Environmental Protection Agency's 1,300 Superfund sites are abandoned military bases, weapons-production facilities or weapons-testing sites. Nuclear weapons pollution is particularly problematic. Worldwide, the equivalent of 30,000 Hiroshima bombs have been tested in the atmosphere, discharging more than 9,000 pounds of plutonium. (Plutonium is so lethal that 4 pounds would be enough to kill 8 billion people.) Over 5,000 Department of Energy nuclear weapons facilities have required environmental remediation. The former Hanford, Wash., nuclear weapons facility may be the world's largest environmental cleanup site with a projected budget in excess of $100 billion. In the southern Ural Mountains, Lake Karachay, into which the Soviet Union dumped nuclear waste, is probably the most polluted place on earth. Standing on its shores for an hour will cause death within weeks.
Militarism is extremely expensive. The United States military consumes 54 percent of all discretionary government spending. This money should be used to create a clean and sustainable environment. Political appeals to "patriotism" make it extremely difficult to reduce the military budget or even to curtail its expansion. The military-industrial complex is thoroughly integrated with the corporate fossil fuel complex. The U.S. military guarantees fossil fuel corporations steady access to global energy resources. Fossil fuel corporations, in reciprocity, support weapons industries and lobby for bloated military budgets.
Militarism sabotages the international cooperation necessary for significant action about climate change. At this very moment, militarism is poisoning United States relations with both Russia and China. Yet without environmental cooperation between these countries, global warming will continue largely unimpeded. The severe military addiction of American society may well impair the survival of human life on Earth.
"The awful truth," writes Barry Sanders, is that "even if every person, every automobile, and every factory suddenly emitted zero emissions, the Earth would still be headed head first and at full speed toward total disaster for one major reason. The military — that voracious vampire — produces enough greenhouse gases, by itself, to place the entire globe, with all its inhabitants large and small, in the most imminent danger of extinction."
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center's "Peace Train" runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.